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Beyond the Myth of Extinction: The Hatuey Regiment 

Jose Barreiro, Ph.D 
Indios de Yateras 

Marti, as always, guides our steps. 

Four hundred years after the supposed "extinction" of Cuban Indians, in a regiment made 
up of people from the Yateras Valley of Guantanamo, in eastern Cuba, Tafno- 
descendants fought the Spanish colonial government under the famous Cuban patriot, 
Major General Antonio Maceo. By all accounts the troop, organized as the Hatuey 
Regiment, fought valiantly in several engagements, most notably at the Battle of Sao del 
Indio, on August 31, 1895, as the War of Independence was launched by the Cuban 
nation in arms/fl] 

Ignored by most researchers and written out of Cuban national histories throughout the 
twentieth century, it is nevertheless a fact that Cuban Indians fought first for the Spanish 
army and then for the insurrection during the Cuban War of Independence of 1895. [2] 

The questions of how to assail the Indian support for the Spanish militias and how to 
form alliance with the Indo-Cuban community was an important one for the early 
insurrection. By April, 1895, the "terrible Indians of Yateras" were already a scourge on 
the Liberation army, as they were expert trackers and intensely well disciplined mountain 
fighters. As a force for the Spanish, the Yateras Indians could control the important 
eastern trade area of Guantanamo-Santiago de Cuba. To disable the Indian community as 
a fighting force seemed an unenviable, formidable task to the Liberation forces as the 
Cuban War of Independence got underway in 1895. [3] 

A number of Indian scouts from the municipality of Yateras, near Guantanamo, were 
recruited by the Spanish army into a group commanded by the infamous local leader of 
Spanish volunteers, Pedro Garrido Romero. With its Indian scouts from the area of 
Caridad de los Indios, a long-standing Taino enclave, this particular Spanish group was 
deadly effective. In mid-April, shortly after they landed to launch the insurrection, two 
of the Maceo brothers (Antonio and Jose) were ambushed and nearly destroyed by the 
Yateras Indians under Garrido. A third Cuban insurrectionist general, Flor Crombet, who 
landed with the Maceos, was killed in this ambush and the Garrido trackers kept up a 
tremendous pressure against the incipient Cuban army. [4] 

Jose Marti, the Cuban Apostle, poet and revolutionary leader, noted the sad reality of 
Indians scouting for the Spanish in his final campaign diary. Marti, who had landed with 
Maximo Gomez in the same region and was also traversing the eastern fields of battle, 
writes about being tracked by "...the Indians of Garrido ... the danger is felt. Since the 



Palenque, they have been closely following our prints." 4 In this area of the Sierra, at least 
two of the turn of the twentieth century's chroniclers of the insurrection beside Marti — 
Casasus and Miro Argenter — make occasional references to the Indian population. More 
recent historians, Guantanamo's Sanchez Guerra most notably, have brought out 
important articles about the genesis of the Hatuey Regiment. [5] 

Shortly before he is killed by Spanish bullets, Jose Marti spends a night in an Indian 
bohio. He writes in his campaign diary about his native host, Domitila, "Indian woman, 
ardent eyes, agile and good . . . jumps to the forest and brings in a garden of tomatoes, 
coriander, oregano, herbs..." "Could it be true," he also writes, upon hearing of the 
ambush against the Maceos, "that Flor Crombet, Flor the gallant, is dead? ... that the 
Indians of Garrido caused the treason?" 5 [6] 

Marti is killed on May 19, 1895, but not before requesting from the Maceo brothers, both 
leaders of sizable armies, that they do everything possible to recruit the Yateras Indian 
trackers away from serving with the Spanish. How the Yateras Indians were recruited 
away from serving the Spanish army as guides and guerrillas is most interesting. General 
Jose Maceo here relied on two trusted men and one woman, all enjoying close relations 
with the Tafno-descendant communities in the mountains north of Guantanamo. The men 
were Pedro (Periquito/Little Parrot) Perez y Perez and Silverio Guerra Tellez; the woman 
was the heroine captain of Maceo's eastern army, the midwife and spiritist, Cristina Perez 
Perez. 6 [7] 

Trance of the Midwife 

Cristina Perez, a midwife of Catalan ancestry but married into an Indian clan via her 
union to the minor cacique Ramon Ramirez Suarez, was a strong sympathizer with the 
Cuban cause. She was a collaborator against Spain via her close friendship to young 
Silverio Guerra Tellez, an Indian descendent from Yateras who would become a 
commander of the Liberation Army. Throughout late March and April of 1895, Cristina 
spoke with the major and minor caciques of the indo-Cuban population. Many were 
already allied to the Spanish army, which had granted them new concessions of lands, in 
the effort to enlist them. It was during this time, April 10, that the Maceo brothers were 
attacked by the Indian troops and General Flor Crombet shot to death by a young Indian 
scout named Guadalupe Ramirez Rojas (Rojitas). This was a dangerous period for 
Cristina, who anticipated attacks on her person by the Spanish volunteers, along with 
their many Indian allies. Only her circle of respect as an appreciated midwife of the 
mountain and her remarkable powers of ceremony, during which sessions she entered 
trances and spoke with the ancient cemis and long-gone caciques, protected her. [8] 

By late April and early May, Cristina convinced two of the lesser caciques and one main 
cacique of the community of the justice of the Cuban cause. But many others were not 
convinced and the threats of death continued, as did the warnings to Cristina by friends to 
desist in her mission and leave the area. It was then that, at the invitation of the caciques, 
Cristina decided to hold her ceremony, inviting all caciques and main leaders, where she 
would decipher the wishes of the ancients through her trance. [9] 



On the night of May 13, 1895, by the light of an open fire, the ceremony is conducted. An 
eyewitness, Dr. Luis Morlote, noted her words, which are cited by historian Sanchez 
Guerra: "Listen," she said in her trance to the assembled chiefs. It was the voice of an 
ancient cacique speaking: "In the great timepiece of the universe, it is signaled that the 
hour of Cuban national independence is at hand. Only a few leagues from here one of the 
most famous generals of the liberation war is encamped, the great Antonio Maceo. I am 
with him, and since you are with me, I request that, fortified by the memory of the 
persecutions felt by our victimized race, instead of continuing to war against him, you 
join his forces, brave and decided, to struggle for the redemption of Cuba, your country, 
because the hour is near and it is necessary that Cuba be free." [10] 

The caciques retired to the mountain for an all night meeting with their people. Cristina 
waited in a local bohio, fearing the worst, perhaps even execution, if the Yateras Indians 
decided against her intent. The knock came at daybreak. The caciques were ready with an 
answer: their contingents lined up before Cristina, armed and ready to join the revolution. 
Within forty eight hours, they were at the camp of Antonio Maceo, some taking part 
immediately in the Battle of El Jobito on May 15th and constituting a remarkable 
addition to the Liberation Army until 1898, when the war ended. Both Cristina Perez and 
her husband Ramon Ramirez received the rank of captain. In a letter dated July 21, 1895, 
Jose Maceo writes to insurrectionist junta treasurer, Benjamin Guerra, in New York, that 
the Indians of Yateras have passed into the insurrectionist ranks. [11] 

Sao del Indio 

Naturally, the Yateras combatants would be incorporated into a Regimiento Hatuey, 
claiming the name of the first rebel Taino cacique in Cuba, who was executed by the 
Spanish in 1513. The name had yet to be formalized as a regiment, however, when 
under the command of the Dominican rebel officer, Dionicio Gil, and with the young 
Lieutenant Silverio Guerra incorporated into its ranks, the group fought in the important 
battle of Sao del Indio, August 31, 1895. The Indian group from Yateras mountains, the 
Ramirez and Rojas clans, as well as other descendant families, marched with the Pineda 
Regiment, later the Hatuey, under which command it entered that pivotal conflict of the 
early war that became known as the Battle of Sao del Indio. 9 [12] 

The Indian Regiment was one of several dozen to fight under Jose's illustrious warrior 
brother, Antonio Maceo, the loved "Bronze Titan" of the Cuban forces. General Antonio, 
whose army numbered some six hundred armed men at that time, was in operations near 
Santiago de Cuba in late August, 1895, when he received word that some twelve hundred 
Spanish troops with two pieces of artillery had his brother, General Jose and thirty men, 
besieged near Guantanamo. Antonio ordered a forty-mile overnight march through the 
mountains and arrived early next morning as the Spanish began their attack. 10 [13] 

The Battle of Sao del Indio lasted thirty six hours. The Cuban troops, fighting on empty 
stomachs and after the grueling sleepless overnight trek, charged on horseback with 
swinging machetes against Spanish cannon and infantry. Two long Spanish cannons took 
their toll with twenty-three well-placed shots. Antonio Maceo ordered Commander Gil 



and the emerging Hatuey Regiment to take the Spanish artillery, which they did with a 
machete charge that drove off the battery crews. Padron Valdes, 217: "The Hatuey 
regiment attacked from the right flank ... composed in its majority by the aboriginal 
guerrillas of Yateras, who with their arms had crossed over to our side ..." [14] 

Numbering about one hundred men at this time, the Hatuey regiment tied ropes to the 
cannons, attempting to pull them out in the heavy mud. It proved an impossible task and 
the regiment was pinned down while defending the artillery pieces most of the day. . It 
suffered heavy losses. "These guerrillas behaved heroically in their debut as patriots ... 
they eliminated the cannon crews and took the cannon, but could not move them from 
their place, which gave the Spanish troops time to reinforce the area . . . [the] 
reinforcements decimated the Hatuey regiment . . . until el General Jose could see what 
was going on and ordered help by forcing that enemy flank to retreat to its center ..." 
(Padron Valdes, 218). The battle produced 327 Spanish dead and some forty Cuban 
dead. u [15] 

Survivors of the Battle of Sao del Indio, such as Lieutenant Silverio Guerra, born in 
Yateras, and others from the Hatuey regiment, continued to serve in the insurrectionist 
armies to the end of the war against Spain. Along with the engagement at Peralejo, the 
Battle of Sao del Indio was pivotal in the early building of confidence and discipline of 
the forces that would spearhead General Maceo's grand campaign west to Habana over 
the next year. [16] 

While a few of the Yateras combatants went west with Maceo's historic campaign, the 
bulk of the Hatuey Regiment, under the direct comand of Silverio Guerra, sustained 
operations in the Guantanamo-Santiago de Cuba zone. Guerra had been selected for the 
western "invasion" by Maceo, but a serious battle wound in the Battle of Los Platanos 
(November, 1895), incapacitated him and he was in recovery as Maceo's army got on its 
way. [17] 

Nevertheless, Silverio Guerra's service with the Indo-Cuban contingents of the Hatuey 
Regiment continued throughout the Liberation War. "The Colonel of the Mountains," as 
he is known in his region of Guantanamo, and the Hatuey Regiment, participated in 
several other major assignments and battles to the end of the war in 1898. In March, 
1896, the Hatuey regiment saved a crucial shipment of three thousand rifles that had 
landed on the coast to Spanish pursuit. In May, they defeated the forces of the dreaded 
Spanish commander Garrido. In July, they were at the side of General Jose Maceo as he 
was shot off his horse and killed in Loma del Gato. In October, in the Battle of Revancha 
de Romelie, the regiment, with their revered midwife Capitana Cristina fighting in the 
ranks, defeated a Spanish Volunteers Troop. [18] 

The United States entered the war in 1898 and with the defeat of Spain only months later, 
the Liberation Army was confined to quarters near Guantanamo. It was not allowed to 
march into Santiago after the Spanish surrender. This undignified treatment from the 
American Army command created much resentment. Months passed before the Cuban 



Army of Liberation was allowed to enter the city. Along with the rest of the Liberation 
Army, the Hatuey Regiment was disbanded in 1899. [19] 

The Yateras Indian community has been documented by professor Manuel Rivero de la 
Calle (Havana) and others. There are other, less studied, enclaves of native population 
throughout eastern Cuba. In addition, the guajiro folk culture of Camagiiey and Oriente 

19 

regions is deeply steeped in Taino traditions and culture. [20] 

Among the Taino descendents met by Rivero de la Calle in his earliest expeditions in 
1964 was the elder Ladislao Rojas, known by his Indian relatives in the Guantanamo 
mountain community of Caridad de los Indios as "Cacique Ladislao." Cacique Ladislao, 
photographed in 1964 at ninety-two years old and a grandfather of the present cacique, 
Francisco (Panchito) Ramirez, was a veteran of the War of Independence. Ladislao 
appears in Carlos Roloff's registry of veterans from that war. [21] 

The history, culture and identity of Indo-Cuban ancestry is certainly alive in the eastern 
mountains of Cuba. Erudites that casually use the word "extinction" when referring to our 
Taino heritage should reconsider their incorrect denials of the Indian presence within the 
Cuban nation. As Marti wrote: "They should quiet, and learn." [22] 

NOTES 

1 Abelardo Padron Valdes, "El General Jose, Apuntes Biograficos," Editorial de Arte y 
Literatura, Instituto Cubano del Libro, La Habana, 1973, Pp. 217-218 

2 Manuel Rivero de la Calle,"Supervivencia de descendientes de Indoamericanos en la 
Zona de Yateras, Oriente," Cuba Arqueologica, Editorial Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, 
1978. Rivero amply documents the long-standing existence of the aboriginal population 
of the Yateras mountains. 

3 Juan J.E. Casasus, "La Invasion: Estudio Critico-Militar, Academia de la Historia y 
academia Militar de la Republica, La Habana, 1950. "En el 'Alto palmarito,' en un 
encuentro con los indios de Yateras . . . perece . . . Flor Crombet. . . . Su matador, el indio 
Rojas de 17 anos, a los pocos dias se incorpora al Ejercito Libertador." P. 48-49 

4 Jose Marti, Diario de Campana, en "Marti En Los Campos de Cuba Libre," por Rafael 
Lubian y Arias, 1982 

5 Jose Miro Argenter, "Cronicas de la Guerra," Instituto del Libro de la Habana, 1945, 
1970. "A Crombet lo mataron los indios de Yateras, mientras defendia el campamento de 
Jose Maceo." P. 33. 

6 Jose Sanchez Guerra, "La Capitana del Regimiento Hatuey," El Mar Y La Montana, 
revista de Guantanamo, October 30, 1998, Pp. 48-53. In this excellent piece of original 
research, the official historian of Guantanamo details the story of Cristina Perez. 



7 L.Primelles La revolucion del '95, segun la correspondencia de la delegacion cubana en 
Nueva York, (Biblioteca Historica Cubana",) Tomo I, Editorial Habanera, La Habana 

8 Bartolome de las Casas, Brevisima Relacion de la Destruction de las Indias. Fray las 
Casas recounts the heroics and execution of Hatuey, who became a major hero in Cuban 
history and whose legend sustains in a live spiritual tradition for people in the 
southeastern region of Cuba. 

9 Major General Carlos Roloff Mialofsky, Indice Alfabetico y Definiciones del Ejercito 
Libertador de Cuba, Datos compilados y ordenados por el Inspector General del Ejercito 
Libertador.Habana, Imprenta de Rambla y Bouza, 1901, lists a total of 81 Rojas and 
Ramirez that appear in the Hatuey Regiment, Pp. 74 . 

10 Padron Valdes, Pp. 217-218 

1 1 Leopoldo Horrego Estuch, "Maceo: Heroe y Caracter," La Milagrosa Imprenta, La 
habana, 1952, P. 212 

12 Manuel Rivero de la Calle, " Los Indios Cubanos de Yateras," Cuba Arqueologica, 
Santiago de Cuba, 1978 



Author 

Jose Barreiro, senior editor at Indian Country Today and founding editor of Native 
Americas journal, has for nearly 20 years helped to forge the American Indian Program at 
Cornell University, where he served as associate director and editor-in-chief of Akwe:kon 
Press and its journal Native Americas. A member of the Taino Nation of the Antilles, 
Barreiro was instrumental in remodeling Indian Country Today into the United States' 
leading American Indian news source. Barreiro has edited several books on indigenous 
American topics, including Indian Roots of American Democracy, View from the Shore: 
American Indian Perspectives on the Quincentenary, Chiapas: Challenging History, and 
most recently, Panchito: Cacique de Montana, a testimony narrative. He is author of the 
novel, The Indian Chronicles, (Arte Publico Press-University of Houston, 1993). For 
twenty-five years, Barreiro has worked on development of communications networks 
among indigenous peoples of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. He 
has been an advisor to several Native nations and a consultant with the John D. and 
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency, 
the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, and the Council 
on Indigenous Peoples' Economies. Barreiro was chosen as one of the most influential 
100 Latinos in the U.S. in 1993 for his work in ethnic literatures. He holds a Ph.D. in 
American Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is currently a 
member of the editorial board of Kacike: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History 
and Anthropology. 



Submitted: 23 May 2004 

Editorial review completed: 09 July 2004 

Published: 12 July 2004 

Citation 

Please cite this article as follows, with number of paragraphs if necessary: 

Barreiro, Jose. (2004). Beyond the Myth of Extinction: The Hatuey Regiment. [22 
paragraphs] KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
[On-line Journal]. Available at: http://kacikejournal.wordpress.com/barreiro/ [Date of 
access: Day, Month, Year]. 

© 2004. Jose Barreiro. KACIKE. All rights reserved.